Carbon Monoxide Blamed For 2 Storm Deaths

A power pole that snapped in Thursday night's storm hangs over the street on West Mercer Way in Mercer Island, Wash., Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006. AP/The Seattle Times, Betty Udesen

The death toll from the Northwest's worst windstorm in more than a decade climbed to 10 Monday, while at least 100 people developed symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning blamed on the use of portable generators and grills for light and heating.

Nearly 250,000 homes and businesses remained without power in hard-hit western Washington, where officials said some residents used generators and charcoal grills for light and heat during the blackout. Two of the dead were among those taken ill with the poisoning symptoms. In all, eight people in Washington state have died in the storm.

"We're dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in Western Washington," said Dr. Neil B. Hampson of Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Two other deaths in Oregon were blamed on the storm that struck last Thursday.

Wind gusted to 113 mph during the storm near Mount Rainier and to a record 69 mph at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. More than 1.5 million homes and businesses across the Northwest lost electricity at some point in the storm.

About 240,000 customers were still without power in western Washington, utilities reported, as temperatures were in the low to mid 20s over most of the affected area early Monday.

On Sunday, a man and his dog were electrocuted when they stepped on a fallen power line while out for a walk in Gig Harbor, Pierce County sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said. Troyer said residents had been clearing debris near the power line for days, unaware that it was live.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a statewide disaster and the state National Guard was mobilized to help get fuel and supplies to hard-hit areas.

Some retailers were running out of fire logs and batteries, fireplace and stove wood was also in short supply and there were still long lines at some gasoline stations as some motorists complained of sudden price increases at the pump.

Many tried to manage at home, others moved in with friends or relatives and some went to shelters opened by the Red Cross.

Katy Freiberg of Bellevue, Wash., told The Seattle Times she and her children, ages 9, 8 and 3, went to an emergency shelter at North Bellevue Community Center to get showers, clean clothes and a warm meal Sunday after three days of relying on an outdoor barbecue grill for cooking and warmth.

"We were putting wood in the grill to cook and stay warm. We were basically living outside," Freiberg said. "We woke up this morning and it was so very cold, I said, 'Kids, we just can't do this anymore. We need to get warm.'"

Irene Endow of Bellevue, who lost power Friday, also decided it was time to seek shelter. "After two really cold nights, we're going to go to a friend's house that has power and sleep there tonight," she said.

Utility crews, many exhausted from overtime work following previous snow, wind and rain storms in the region this fall, worked through the night to clear trees from power lines and repair damage to main "feeder" lines between substations and neighborhoods.

Puget Sound Energy officials said days of work remained to restore power in areas ranging from Mercer Island, a wealthy suburb just east of Seattle, to more far-flung suburban and rural areas.

With another 80 crews set to arrive from as far away as southern California and Kansas, the utility expected to have more than 2,000 repair personnel on the job Monday, she said.

As of early Monday nearly 18,000 Seattle City Light customers were in the dark, as well as 8,700 in the Snohomish County Public Utility District, 8,000 served by Peninsula Light Co. of Gig Harbor, 3,000 in Tacoma and more than 1,000 in the Grays Harbor County PUD on the coast.

At the other end of the state, about 3,300 were still without power Sunday after service was restored for much of Spokane and nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, as Avista Corp. and other utility crews moved into rural areas north of the two population centers.

"Those areas tend to be more wooded, so it's going to take longer for us to get to the power lines," Avista spokeswoman Laurine Jue said.

By several measures the devastation has exceeded that of the storm on Jan. 20, 1993, which left five people dead, at least 79 homes destroyed and about $130 million in damage.

Damages from the current storm have yet to be assessed, but the death toll this time is higher the impact on the power grid appears to be more severe. Seattle City Light is reconnecting 175,000 buildings, compared with 110,000 in the Inauguration Day storm, and Puget Sound Energy reported more damage to major transmission lines.

In some areas thieves began taking advantage of cover of darkness. Two people were cornered by a police dog and arrested outside Tacoma in Pierce County after a witness reported a burglary and gave chase to a Chevrolet blazer that crashed into a tree, sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said.

Deputies also arrested two men for investigation in the stripping of copper from downed power lines, Troyer said.

Seattle police said they did not have any indication of an increase in break-ins but recommended that anyone staying in a darkened home take precautions, locking doors and bracing windows shut.

Another aftermath was an increase in smog resulting from heavier use of wood fires for heating and an inversion that trapped stagnant, cold air close to the ground. Unhealthy levels of air pollution were reported in Lake Forest Park, the South Park area of Seattle, Kent and south Tacoma.

"It'll remain dry and cold along the West Coast, including the Northwest, for at least the next 2 days as the next Pacific storm shouldn't reach the Northwest coastline until Wednesday night at the earliest, says CBS News meteorologist George Cullen.
  • Alfonso Serrano

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